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My Corner of the Canyon: My Corner of Midsummer
September 5, 2013 - By Kathie Gibboney
What are the names of the fairies? I can only remember Peaseblossom and Mustardseed. I know the other two names, know them like the back of my ageing hand, but along with the hand, the mind gets old.
Driving in the car I cannot conveniently Google Shakespeares fairies from A Midsummer Nights Dream, nor do I have the text on hand, though one should always have a copy about.
What are the names of the fairies? I ask myself aloud. The answer doesnt come.
Though technically still summer, a lot of the summerish aspects seem behind us, what with back to school and the arrival of Labor Day, which marks the end of the season, although summer officially hangs in there until September 22.
It passed quickly, this summer of 2013. I can recall parts of itfireworks, an all-too-quick beach vacation, the heat of the parking lot of Vons in the Valley, a glimpse of Topanga flowers on a hillside, shedding cat, one pizza the family shared together, the day the washer broke, a summer bunny hopping up the driveway in early twilightthough what I most clearly remember of summer seems to be our children continuously asking for money.
I refuse to let summer pass without capturing a real moment, a true piece of time, an effort at worthy pursuit. Opportunity arrived through the wise voice of my daughter who is working on a summer homework assignment.
Mommy, I cant understand the words in this play. Ive tried to read it but Im not getting it. Can we go see it at the Theactricum? A Midsummer Nights Dream is playing there next week?
I see it clearly, a special evening, enchantment, magic, Shakespeare, Topanga, stars, mother, daughter together, and if we can smuggle in some popcorn, it could just be heaven.
During the day of working at Shaka Shack in my turn as Hamburger Hostess, I look forward to attending the play as if I were going on some exotic vacation, but then a trip to The Fairyland is like venturing to another country.
Im going to see a play tonight, with my daughter! I announce to any customer who will listen.
Probably the first production I ever saw at Will Geers Theatricum Botanicum was A Midsummer Nights Dream. We picnicked with friends in Wills Garden and encountered the special lady that was Herta Ware. The place was magical and so was she. Having recently moved to Topanga, those 20 years ago, I thought I should audition there and maybe be part of such an admirable theater. Of course, I should have presented Titania for my audition but in an attempt to offer something different I chose a darker Queen and a ridiculously ambitious monologue. I was Cleopatra. Having never worked on the piece before and having no one to rehearse with or direct me, I stumbled through it as best I could. And I mean literally stumbling, for when finally entering the theater, after a long wait for the open calls, I tripped over the hem of the long cotton dress I had stupidly chosen to wear in a misguided attempt to approximate Egyptian royalty.
Upon actually making it up and onto the stage, I fumbled and dropped the basket I carried that supposedly housed a deadly serpent. An actress in character would have worked to quickly wrangle the snake back into the basket, for as I direct my students, If you believe it, the audience will. However, I was not in character and, in fact, so far from it that I stood there thinking, Oh, now, theyll know theres not really a snake in there. Needless to say, the scene did not go well (did I mention she kills herself on stage?) I died all right but not in a way becoming a princess descended of so many royal kings.
All these years later, I bring my daughter on a summer night to the scene of my debacle. Of course, we have been here many times since, Miranda even having performed, admirably I might add, on that very stage as part of the Theatricums Summer Shakespeare Camp.
The night is fine and Topanga crickets still chirp though the frogs are gone. We stroll through the garden and pay brief tribute to Wills Bust, standing (if a bust can stand) ever on watch and with beaming benevolence on all there. We line up to enter the theater and the excitement builds as the lingering light fades from the August sky. Was that a fairy that just flittered by?
Oh, what a delight to sit under the Topanga stars beside a young girl coming of age, and named in fact after Miranda of Shakespeares The Tempest.
How did that man write all the truth and beauty that he did, capturing with heart-stopping grace the human condition and then sending it across some 400 years so that I might munch a piece of contraband popcorn and smile to myself?
There is, after all, nothing like a bawdy joke.
Melora Marshall and Willow Geer directed this years production, doing double duty by also assuming the roles of Titania and Helena respectively and could not have been more natural. All the actors did a great job of balancing the characters vexing dilemmas with the lightheartedness of the story. And, of course, I wanted to bound from my seat and play every part.
There was a moment in the play, not intentional, that for me captured the magic of mid-summer. Queen Titania, under her spell of love, is leading the now donkey-headed Bottom on a leash. The absolutely wondrous Katherine Griffith had given us an exciting and erupting Bottom at every turn, but in this moment, I suspect the actor was just trying to walk with that great mask on up some steps without falling down. There was in that simple effort, something so humbling and gentle about the bombastic, transformed weaver, slowly walking at the end of a fairies lead, large ears silhouetted against the sky, that took me all the way to a wood in Athens, took us all the way to A Midsummer Nights Dream. Miranda and I laughed.